Truth

I’d been waiting for that moment for years, dreamed about it, saw how it would happen from beginning to end. I’d waited, patiently, watching him from a distance when he didn’t know that I was there.

It was my only purpose in life, my penance, to watch him and wait. Wait for the right time to tell him his place in things. At least three times I was tempted to be the one to initiate contact, but something would always stop me. At the time, I found it incredibly frustrating, and I would lock myself in my hovel and try to find peace about my waylaid plans. Each time, I would come out understanding that what had happened had been right, because things would have undoubtedly gone wrong if I had overstepped my bounds yet again. That’s the way the universe operates.

Or at least so I was taught.

Then, the opportunity was given to me. I almost told him everything, but I didn’t. He came to me, understand. I didn’t go looking for him, he came looking for me. After years of watching and waiting, he came to me. And I would tell anyone that asked that if there were signs to be sought, they were all there: I had him alone – well, mostly alone. Undistracted. None of his loud friends or busybody relatives bustling about to stop me.

It was perfect. It was time.

He even asked me what had happened. He actually asked me. The conversation had been going exactly as I imagined it would up to that point, and yet when he asked me, the words I had been practicing since I first came to this godforsaken place froze on my lips. It came on me suddenly – a feeling that I still mustn’t tell him. It still wasn’t time, even though everything seemed to be pushing me towards following my original plan.

I saw what would happen if he knew the truth right now. He sat before me, a boy filled with a beautiful optimism and purity, and those qualities would serve him well in life, but they would be his undoing if he knew the truth now. His goodness would make him obsess over the truth, he would go mad thinking that he could somehow make things right. He would run to him – and he wouldn’t be ready. And then all of his admirable qualities would be twisted and manipulated and turned into a dark abomination.

I saw him turn, right in front of me, in my home.  And he whispered that if this happened to him, it would once again be because of my impatience. As I was responsible for his father, I would be responsible for him.

And then I heard words that I had never rehearsed spill from my mouth, and I felt a guiltless guilt as I saw my lie spill over him. I knew that it was the right thing to do, even as I knew how deep his goodness ran, and how deeply he would feel betrayed when he found out the truth.

But he will understand, and he will forgive. That’s the man this boy will grow to be.

And when he’s old enough, he will be ready.

But not today.

“A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and murdered your father…”

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Wandering Stars

Bats on an asteroid? Whose idea was that?

I have to think a bunch of idiot dwarves were sitting around in their mines back on the dwarf world, discussing the things they’d miss most when they set out into space on their mission to strip asteroids of firegems. For some reason, they all agreed on little leather-winged flying rats.

Probably to help with homesickness out here in the belt.

That’s great for them, but for the rest of us, the bats aren’t so nice to have around. They swoop out of nowhere, they bite, and will even try to carry away small animals. They especially like to dive bomb me when I sit at the top of the arch of D’nash, like I’m doing now. So I stay low.

Other than the risk of bat-bite, the top of the arch is perfect for me. The dwarves refuse to look at it, which has something to do with their religion, so it lowers the odds that I’ll be spotted. My sister Meg told me that we should try to understand the dwarves to help us get along better with them, but I just don’t get it. Why bother having a religion if that religion doesn’t allow you to look at the monuments you build because of that religion?

Yeah, they brought their bats to the asteroid, they brought their religion, and they brought me and Meg and a whole bunch of other human slaves. They’re wonderful creatures, dwarves.

But as little as they pay attention to their religion, I figure that following their beliefs is still more important than a scrawny twelve year old human girl, so they don’t know or don’t care that I sit up here. Which is fine by me. If they did care, then I couldn’t get away with what I’m doing now.

I sit up as I see a flash of pink in the crowd below. What I’ve been waiting for – an orc administrator, wearing his standard pink jacket, pushing his self-important way through the crowded square below, totally unaware that he’d just been pegged to donate to the Human World Orphan’s Fund.

I just love orcs. Their skin has a delightful greenish color that reminds me of my vomit after I’ve eaten too much of Meg’s langua bean soup. Their eyes are as mesmerizingly black as the deepest, darkest, coldest mine, a color which – incidentally – matches the color of their black souls, if they have souls, which I don’t think that they do.

I mean, what’s not to love? They invaded my homeworld, destroying everything in the process, killed my parents, and then dumped Meg and me off as slaves for their stubby longbearded allies to take to the stars. I love them so much that it’s my pleasure to do what I can to inconvenience them whenever I get the chance. It’s just the kind of girl that I am.

Meg says I have a real problem with sarcasm.

If she only knew.

Looking back at the orc, this one is moving fast. Probably late for an important orc meeting, or maybe just late for dinner. Either way, it means I’ll have to move faster.

First, though, I scan the crowd until I see Turi, sitting obediently by a garbage receptacle, looking up at me, waiting for my signal.

He’s such a good dog. Slaves aren’t supposed to have pets, but I dare anyone to try and separate us. Three years ago I was walking past this goblin café on an errand for my owner when I heard this panicked yelping from around back. Meg says I’ve always been more curious than is healthy, but in this case, it saved Turi’s life, because I ran around back and found a horde of bats trying to carry this little brown fur ball off for dinner. He was only a puppy, but that day he became my puppy, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. We have a special connection, which makes what I’m trying to do here today that much easier.

I flick my hand and whisper, “go, boy!” and he immediately bursts into the crowd as if powered by dragonfire.

And that means I have to get down quick.

Fortunately, I’ve done this dozens of times. It’s just a matter of sliding down the arch while avoiding the razor sharp blades that stick out at random spots. They apparently symbolize the way dwarves are supposed to cut themselves in obedience to their gods or something.

What a weird religion.

But, as I’ve said, I’ve done this before, and so sliding down while avoiding the blades is not as hard as it sounds.

But avoiding the gaggle of dwarf nuns at the bottom, that’s another issue.

Of course it would be the only members of the bizarre religion who are permitted to look at the arch as they pray. Only now, they’re not looking at the arch. They’re looking at this scrawny human girl sliding down the arch towards them.

Crap.

When I hit the ground, I expect the nuns to start doing the same to me, and I’m prepared to take the beating long enough to satisfy their anger and then scurry away. But hit with a flash of inspiration, I grab my left ear, bow, and say, “V’rak D’nash!” (which means “Praise D’nash” in dwarvish). I hold my breath and tense, prepared to feel their little rock-hard fists pounding me from all sides. But when that doesn’t happen, I risk a glance. To my shock, the nuns are smiling at me! In unison, they grab their own right ears, bow, and say “P’nash D’nash!” (“May D’nash be praised”), then turn and walk away, giggling.

Maybe Meg was right after all?

Not wasting any more time on my near beat-down, I dive into the crowd, pushing my way through the crowds of dwarf miners, orc pilots, and some multi-limbed creatures that I don’t recognize until I see the puke green head and bright pink administrator jacket just ahead.

But before I can make my move, my way is blocked. I’m about to use some of the dwarf words that Meg never lets me use when I realize that it’s not a dwarf blocking me. It’s a man. A slave, heading for the mines. He’s wearing the simple brown work bibs that mine slaves are provided, a rough fabricated material that is just enough to provide protection, but nothing you would ever choose to wear. He’s linked to six or seven other men with energy beams that prevents them from running away (although there’s nowhere to run on a mining colony). And he looks at me with blank eyes, the result of spending most of his time in the darkness of the mines. For a moment, his eyes seem to clear.

“Anna?”

Then he and the others are pushed on by their dwarf minders, who don’t bother with me. After all, I’m wearing the crest of my owner Jazrah on my tunic. I’m obviously on important business. I breathe a prayer of thanks to D’nash that my owner works in shipping and not mining, or else Meg and I might be a part of that chain gang. But I can’t afford to be distracted, and so I hop past the last dwarf and run up ahead.

I’m about to give Turi the signal when I remember the cams. Dammit, I forgot the cams, and the cams capture everything in public places like this. Stupid bats distracted me. I now have a choice to make: either call the whole thing off and try again later, or try one of Meg’s spells. I’m not supposed to use them in public, but I do it all the time and nobody’s ever been any wiser for it. What Meg doesn’t know won’t hurt her.

I do it quickly, reciting the magic words my sister taught me and making a circular gesture with my left hand. If the spell works (and it usually does), the cams should be on a loop for the next few minutes. It’s not the best way to deal with them, but it’s the only choice I have now.

Knowing that Turi is ready (he’s such a good dog), I take a deep breath and whisper “Go boy”, and the dog is off like a flash, jumping in front of the administrator so quickly that the only thing he can do is go down in a flurry of arms and legs, the stack of sims he’s carrying for his work exploding from him like a wall cracker during the Remembrance Day celebrations.

It’s a perfect move.

I leap out to play my part, grabbing Turi by the back of his neck. “Bad dog!” I scold, sticking my finger in his face. Turi’s ears go back and he lowers his head, whining. Good boy, I think as I turn to the orc. “I’m so sorry,” I say, lowering my head like a good slave.

It’s all I can do not to laugh at the sight of the orc trying to stand and pick up the slips he’d dropped at the same time.

“Let me help you,” I start, scooping up handfuls of slips and shoving them at the orc in what appears to be a random and chaotic movement, but is in fact a move that I’ve practiced hundreds of times.

The administrator, as I expected, is not very interested in my help. The blue veins stand out in his green head, a sign of intense anger in an orc. It occurs to me that if this was one of the larger and angrier orcs – a pilot or a warrior – he would have twisted my head off by now. That’s why I picked an administrator. They get angry, but the nature of their work requires more restraint.

“Just leave it alone!” he shrieks. “Leave me alone!”

This one is surprisingly loud. Loud enough to attract unwanted attention, meaning that the Red Caps – the dwarf constables with their distinctive red caps – would likely be along soon to investigate the fracas. This means that it’s time to make my exit, especially now that the orc’s money bag is now tucked safely in the back of my tunic. So, I raise my hands, dropping the slips I’m still holding, I bow my head, and I back off.

And then, when I’m the required three paces away, I give a short whistle and Turi and I do our best vanishing act into the crowd.

Leaving behind a small victory for enslaved humans everywhere: a much angrier and much poorer orc administrator.

Yay for us.

Young Writer Chronicles: Students Around the World Discover a Love for Writing

I was pleased and honored to be asked to write an article for the National Novel Writing Month about my experiences as an international educator taking students through NaNoWriMo. Here is an excerpt from that article, with the link to the whole article at the bottom of the page.

Young Writer Chronicles: Students Around the World Discover a Love for Writing

by Nate Fleming

tumblr_inline_o6x334JM8u1r0x68m_500I fell into NaNoWriMo backwards, through Script Frenzy, a program sponsored by the nonprofit behind NaNo from 2007 to 2012. In Script Frenzy, a writer would write the first draft of a screenplay over the month of April. At that time, I had aspirations to be a screenwriter, even going so far as to take a screenwriting course in Hollywood over the summer of 2007 to help me down this path.

My biggest obstacle to a screenwriting career was geography. That summer I’d come to Hollywood from my wife’s home country of Kazakhstan, where I was teaching in an international school. Central Asia is not exactly the best place for a writer to live if he wants to break into Hollywood, is it? So, on the advice of a screenwriter friend, I turned to NaNoWriMo. If I couldn’t be in Hollywood to sell my screenplay idea, perhaps I could write a novel, and that novel could sell itself! In 2008, I decided to set aside November to work on making my screenplay into a novel.

downloadAlthough I didn’t finish the novel that year, I enjoyed NaNoWriMo so much that in 2009, I decided to try and see if I could fit NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program into my international school’s curriculum. That year, with the approval of my administration, I piloted taking a valiant class of fifth graders through the month of writing, and it was maddening, exhilarating, insane, and immensely rewarding.

My eyes were opened as I saw students who had previously struggled to write a paragraph effortlessly filling pages and pages of a first draft. It also unlocked writing in other classes across the curriculum, and writing was coming easier for these students in history, science, and literature classes. It was revolutionary! The doors had been opened, and my students suddenly believed that they could write! It was almost magical!

To read the rest of the story, go here.

 

Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist • Preview Chapter 2

They made it to the ark, but the danger has not passed.

Someone on board the ark is not what they seem, and Thimblerig discovers that there are plans afoot to steal the Seed of Asarata, the key to life after the flood. Now, to save the seed and the future, he and his company of animals will have to steal it first, right out from under the noses of Noah, the humans, and the wild dogs who protect it.

Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist

For a preview of chapter 1, read here.

Chapter 2

“C’mon Bunco, get me out of here!”

Soapy, the copper-furred orangutan, held onto the bamboo bars of his cage and watched hopelessly at the pygmy elephant standing outside pulled futilely at the twine tied around the bars with her trunk. The two were founding members of Thimblerig’s company of animals, and two of the other con artists who had made it onboard the ark after encountering the unicorn.

“I’m working on it, Soapy!” The pygmy elephant grunted. “You’re supposed to be the pickpocket. Can’t you do anything?”

“It’s tied too tight!” Soapy slapped the bars and flopped down on the floor of the cage. “This is so wrong! I didn’t do anything!”

A flurry of white feathers flew past the pen, circled above, and landed on the top.

“Morning, all,” Shi Lau said. The white duck, also a member of Thimblerig’s company of animals, moved aside so that a midnight-black raven could land beside him, and he almost tumbled off as the room shifted, a regular occurrence as the enormous ark was being continually tossed around by the massive storm outside like a toy boat in a puddle.

“Morning, Shi Lau,” Big Bunco said, sitting down and wiping her brow with her trunk.  “Who’s your friend?”

“This is Yonah,” Shi Lau answered, turning to the raven. “He came for some figs. Yonah, say hello to the mammals.”

“Hello, mammals,” the raven squawked, waving a wing.

“What’s the word?” Shi Lau asked. “Soapy still complaining?”

“Complaining? I’m standing up for my rights!” Soapy countered. “I don’t deserve this!”

The duck poked his head through the bars and laughed. “Quit your griping, Soapy! You got caught in the bird section and you lost your privileges. Don’t you know actions have consequences?”

“Oh, shut your bill, Shi Lau!” Soapy snapped back at the duck, taking a swipe at the billed face, but the duck yanked his head back out before he could be hit.

“Hey, don’t be angry at me,” Shi Lau said. “Be angry at the doves. They ratted you out to Kid Duffy.”

“Don’t remind me,” Soapy said. “Dirty fink wild dog.”

“As if they didn’t mess things up enough in the forest,” Shi Lau said disgustingly, hopping off the pen and sailing down to the ark floor beside Big Bunco. “Lousy wild dogs.”

Before the flood, the wild dogs had been the undisputed leaders of the forest, but they had been anything but benevolent. Ruling over the other animals with fear and intimidation, they had kept everyone firmly under their paws. When the flood came and washed everything away, everyone had expected that life would be different, but they were still being ruled by Kid Duffy, the only surviving male wild dog.

It seemed like nothing had changed.

“I was just trying to make a trade!” Soapy shot back.

“Yeah, Duffy’s not big on black markets,” Shi Lau answered. “He likes things organized.”

“At least he let you be down here with us,” Big Bunco said cheerfully. “He could have stuck you back up with the rest of the apes.”

“Who would he get to carry me up there? The doves?” Soapy grumbled. “And since when are you such an optimist?”

“What’s wrong with being optimistic?” Big Bunco said. “Things could be a lot worse, you know!”

“How could it be worse?” Soapy asked, slapping the bars right behind Big Bunco’s head. “I’m stuck in a cage!”

“For starters, you could be stuck outside the ark!” Bunco said, standing up and facing the ape. “I don’t remember you being that great a swimmer!”

As if to underline her statement, the storm made the ark shift again, throwing everyone out of balance. Ignoring the sensation, the two friends glared at each other through the bars, the tension was as thick as the heavy rain constantly falling outside.

“So where’s Sheila?” Shi Lau finally asked, referring to the ever-idealistic kangaroo who was usually around. “I’m surprised she’s not here making you feel even worse.”

“Oh she was here, alright,” Soapy said. He flopped back down again, an orange-fur heap on a bed of yellow straw. “She told me not to be upset, but to…”

“Trust the unicorn!” they all said at once.

“Tabitha and Mullins took her to check on Elbridge,” Big Bunco said, returning her attention to the stubborn knot of twine that kept Soapy encaged. “But I think they were just trying to give Soapy some relief.”

“At least somebody cares…” Soapy complained.

“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” a familiar voice said, and they all turned to see Thimblerig step out of a shadowy recess in the wall.

“Ha, ha.” Soapy replied, brightening up. “You better have something to make me feel better.”

“Yeah, where are the figs?” Shi Lau asked, flapping down to the floor beside Thimblerig, trying to poke his bill into the pouch slung over Thimblerig’s shoulder. “We’re getting tired of the grub they keep giving us up in the aviary.” The duck pulled back suddenly, an unpleasant, wrinkled look on his face. “What’s that smell!”

“It’s nothing!” Thimblerig said, pushing the duck away. He plopped down, his back against Soapy’s cage, pulled the empty bag over his head, and tossed it to the floor. “I struck out.”

“Again?” Shi Lau squawked. “I thought you said you could take those reptiles for a bagful!”

“I could, and I still can,” Thimblerig muttered, in no mood to be grilled on his failed con.

“If the figs on Asarata were coulda’s, then all the forest would go hungry,” Shi Lau replied, shaking his head and looking back up at the raven. “Sorry, Yonah. No figs.”

“No worries,” The raven answered, obviously disappointed, but also relieved that he didn’t have to stick around. “I’m going to take off. Don’t want to end up in a cage! See you later, mammals!”

Thimblerig watched the raven flap away, and then turned to the duck.

“Bringing strangers down here for figs? Seriously?” he asked.

“What?” Shi Lau said. “He’s a good egg!”

Everyone groaned, and Thimblerig sat back against the cage, pulled a piece of straw from the floor and started sucking on it.

Over the course of their journey to the ark, the duck had been a constant thorn in Thimblerig’s paw, complaining and doubting him every step of the way. Of course, he’d been right that Thimblerig was a no good con-artist, and the fact that he’d figured him out was probably what bothered Thimblerig the most.

He had been a con. One of the best in the forest, no doubt, and from the start he had intended to take the little company of animals for every fig he could get his paws on, but Thimblerig’s attitude towards them – including the duck – had changed.

The unicorn had seen to that.

“Maybe the raven’s fine, but I think we’re best off just sticking with each other,” Thimblerig said. “Better the wild dog you know then the one that you don’t.”

“Speaking of wild dogs, Thimblerig, can you talk to Kid Duffy? Talk him into springing me?” Soapy’s doleful eyes peered through the bamboo cage. “You were a leader, so maybe he’d listen to you.”

“He’s still a wild dog,” Thimblerig huffed. “He won’t listen to anyone.”

“Except the humans,” Big Bunco said.

At the naming of the humans, everyone grew quiet and nervous, as if by mentioning them one would appear.

The humans.

They walked on two legs, had little fur of their own, and were incapable of communication beyond grunts and making unintelligible sounds. Yet, it seemed that they were the ones who had built the ark, and they were undoubtedly the ones who were in charge.

“Forget the humans, and forget Duffy, we don’t need them,” Thimblerig finally said, standing. “We don’t need anyone.”

“Where you going?” Big Bunco asked as Thimblerig turned to go.

“I have no idea,” Thimblerig said, his voice weary. “So I guess I’ll go lie down.”

The other animals watched with concern as Thimblerig trudged down the big animal-filled room heading towards his own little pen.

Big Bunco found Thimblerig laying on the straw in small pen, staring up at the glowing firegems dotting the rough wooden rafters above. She had to hold onto the wooden slats of the pen with her trunk to keep from being knocked down as the ark rode the massive waves outside, but the groundhog didn’t seem to be bothered it in the least.

“A fig for your thoughts,” she said, sitting down beside him, glad to be lower to the floor where she was less prone to nausea.

“It didn’t bother me, Bunc,” he said quietly, shaking his head. “It hurt my pride a bit, but not really.”

“What didn’t bother you?” she probed gently.

“Blowing the game down in the reptile room,” he said, shifting on his bed of hay. “Can you believe it? I blew a game with an easy mark, and it didn’t bother me.”

“You seemed bothered when you came back up,” she said.

“Yeah, but it wasn’t about that.” Thimblerig sat up, resting his weight on one arm while he looked at his friend. “Ever since what happened out there, nothing’s been the same. My priorities are all out of whack. I’m not the same since before… him.”

Big Bunco nodded. She’d been feeling the same way. Before the flood she’d been content with her comfortable life as a grifter. But her interaction with the believers and her encounter with the unicorn on the road to the ark had her questioning everything. Her priorities, her hopes, her plans – none of those things seemed to matter any more.

“I’m thinking about leaving it all behind,” Thimblerig said, immediately getting Big Bunco’s attention again. He lay back down on the hay and resumed his staring at the ceiling. “The whole racket. I think I’m done.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Done with what?

“Being a con,” he answered. “The whole bit.”

“You’re going straight?” she asked, unable to believe what she was hearing.

“Yeah, I think I am,” he replied, his voice getting stronger. “I just have this feeling that it’s not supposed to be my life anymore, that Tannier Isa wants me to do something different, but I’m just not sure what.”

Big Bunco felt like she’d just been knocked in the head with an oversized tree trunk. Thimblerig the groundhog, going straight? Was that even possible? She wanted to laugh, to tell him that animals like them couldn’t just change, no more than a zebra making the switch from stripes to spots.

But she couldn’t, because as much as she might deny it, she’d felt it in herself.

She didn’t know if any of them had really changed, or if it was just being trapped on a giant hollowed-out tree trunk in the middle of a world-destroying flood, but she had a strong urge to avoid the topic. She needed to get away.

“That’s great, ‘rig, really,” Big Bunco said, standing, trying to keep her voice from shaking. The ark pitched from the stern, nearly knocking her back down, but Thimblerig jumped up to steady her. “Will I ever get used to being on the water?” she laughed, feeling shaky in more ways than one.

“We won’t be here forever,” he answered. “The unicorn has a new life waiting for us on the other side of the storm. Trust me.”

For a moment, Big Bunco felt swept up in the fervency of Thimblerig’s words. Could it be true? She realized with a mixture of horror and amazement that she actually did trust him, and the truth of that trust gutted her. After all, the first rule of being a con was: trust no one.

“I’ll see you later, ‘rig,” she said, breaking from him and moving towards the opening of his pen. “Got to go help Soapy break out of his cage.”

“Hey, Bunco?” Thimblerig stopped her. “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t say anything to the others. Not yet, at least.”

“Sure, ‘rig, whatever you say,” she replied. He smiled and gave her a quick wave, and then settled back down onto the hay.

She shook her head as she wandered away from the groundhog and back towards her friends. She had some thinking of her own to do.

Look for another excerpt in the coming weeks.

Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist will be released on May 1, 2015.

Want to read Thimblerig’s Ark before the sequel is released? Get your copy by clicking on the cover below!

Click book cover to go to Thimblerig's Amazon page

Nanowrimo • You Are The Hero Of This Story

This is a pep talk I wrote for the 2015 Nanowrimo Young Writer’s Program. It was originally published on the Young Writer’s Program website.
You’re staring at the blinking cursor on your screen, doubtful that you will make your daily word-count goal.

Again.

“Why did I ever decide to do this?” you mutter under your breath. “This month was destined to end in failure!”

The cursor keeps on blinking.

Mocking you.

It’s that sentence. The Worst Sentence Ever Written. The sentence you’ve been monkeying around with for the past hour. You need to change it, but taking the time to change won’t help you reach your goal, and you’re already far behind in your daily word-count.

Your story is going nowhere. The characters are all one dimensional caricatures. The plot’s a dud, and the themes are non-existent, and…

…why did you think you could ever write a novel in the first place?

You slam your laptop shut and cry out in misery, “The mountain’s too tall, the forces arrayed against me too strong, and all hope is lost!”

But wait.

This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? You’ve seen this before, somewhere…

frodosammtdoomFrodo and Sam, emotionally and physically spent, edging their way up the rocky slope of Mt. Doom, the top of the mountain visible but unreachable under the burden of the ring…

Harry Potter, trapped in the besieged halls of Hogwarts, surrounded by the dark forces of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, desperate to figure out the location of the final Horcrux…

Lucy and Susan, holding onto one another in the bitter pre-dawn coldness, crying over the dead body of the great lion, knowing that all of their hopes died with him…

And then, it hits you. This is your dark night of the soul.

NaNoWriMo is your hero’s journey, you are the hero, and this is your point of decision. Do you turn back in defeat, or do you press ahead?

But it’s not just that. You’re also the writer, which means that this is your story.

You control the valiant champions fighting for good and the shadowy forces of evil. One side will win or lose at your beck and call.

This is your story.

It doesn’t matter if it makes sense, if your dialogue is believable, or even if it is well-written. What matters is that you finish.

And Hero, you are almost there.

With that knowledge, you are free to re-open your laptop and write, because this is your story.

And you are the only one who can tell it.

Thimblerig's Ark Cover ArtNate’s novel, Thimblerig’s Ark, is available for a free Kindle download from November 19 until November 23 (PST) in celebration of NaNoWriMo. Go download and enjoy!

Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist, is being written this month during NaNoWriMo, and will be published in Spring 2016.

What’s Wrong with Christian Media?

Media cloud, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

Media cloud, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

Lifeway Research recently released a study that examined the use of Christian media.  The results showed that the vast majority of Christian media is consumed by – hold onto your hats for this, folks – Christians.

Christian Media Barely Reaching Beyond the Faithful

This doesn’t come as a surprise.  Media will typically be consumed by the target audience, and in this case, why would a person who is not a Christian care to listen to a Christian podcast?  Why would they be interested in reading a book about Christianity?  Why would they spend their time watching Christian television programs?

It seems like the logical thing to do here is to circle the wagons.  After all, if the Christian family is consuming most Christian media, then we should just keep creating media for the family!  This is how business works, isn’t it?  You identify your target audience, and then push your product for that audience.

Given, the study does show that some of our media is being consumed by people outside the church – like a positive form of collateral damage –  but we should count those people as frosting on the cake and keep on doing what we do when we do what we do.

But hold on, hit the brakes, stop the engines, turn off the lights… there’s a slight problem with all that.

Did Jesus tell his disciples in Matthew 28:19 to “go back into the church, close the doors, and make disciples”?

No.  Of course not.  He said “Go into all the world…”  Go.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Stop naval gazing and get out into the world where people need the message of hope that we find in the story of Jesus.

Christian media should deal with finding the lost, and not just massaging the found.   What are the “Christianese” words for this?  Witnessing?  Sharing?  Evangelizing?  We’re supposed to be engaging with the world outside of the church, not just circling our wagons to protect the women and children.

Look at it this way.  Imagine your church supports a missionary family living in some foreign country.  The missionary family comes home on furlough, and visits your church to share about the progress of their work in this foreign country.

The missionary husband sets up a powerpoint presentation in the fellowship hall after the pot-luck dinner, and starts showing slides of the family’s work.

“We’re so grateful to be serving in our host country, and blessed to be able to share our work with you today.”

The missionary smiles and turns to the screen.

“In this picture, we’re having some missionary neighbors over for dinner.  We like to have other missionaries over for dinner regularly.  This next picture shows us at our bi-weekly Bible study with some other missionary families.  Oh, you’ll love this one – it’s a picture of us worshipping on Sunday morning at our church, which is only for missionaries.   Hmm….  this is our neighbor who isn’t a missionary… I’m not sure how that picture got in there.   Ah, here!  This next picture is better – it’s our missionary office, where we work with other missionaries.  Finally, here’s a picture of our kids going to their missionary-kid school.  It’s missionary run, taught, and attended.  They just love it there.”

That missionary probably wouldn’t be supported by the church for much longer.

So, we want our missionaries to engage with the culture around them, but for some reason, we seem to be perfectly comfortable that Christian media is only reaching other Christians.

And Christian media isn’t even doing that very well!

RNS-CHRISTIAN-MEDIA bTake Christian movies for example – one of the categories where the results were considered the most encouraging.  The Lifeway study shows that four out of ten people said that they watched a Christian movie in the last year.

Four out of ten?  That’s pretty amazing!

Well, it seems like an encouraging number until you remember that eighty-three percent of the American population identifies as Christian.

Eight out of ten people consider themselves Christian, and four out of ten people watched a Christian movie last year.

Let that sink in.  Less than half the Christian population of America watched at least one Christian movie last year.

So, what does this all mean?  Should we shutter all the Christian bookstores?  Boycott Chris Tomlin concerts?  Send Phil Vischer snarky letters for hosting a podcast with a Christian point of view?

No. Of course not.  (Although sending Vischer snarky letters about his ukelele might be warranted…)  There’s nothing wrong with producing media for ourselves.  There’s nothing wrong with producing media for small segments of ourselves.  People do that every day, all over the world, in all walks of life.

But as Christians, we shouldn’t be content with that.

So, if you are a person interested in Christian media and interested in changing those statistics reported by Lifeway Research, here are 6 (+2) things that Christian media must do better to catch the attention of those people who normally wouldn’t care.

1.  Be Professional.

If something is good in media, it’s not because it is good by accident, or because someone prayed for it to be good and God miraculously made it so.  Things are good in media because professionals have been hired to make them good.  Christian film producers have finally started to realize this, raising enough money to enable them to hire pros to help shoot their films, and the result?  Christian films are finally starting to look like well-shot films.  People in the world outside the church respect professionalism.

2.  Be Excellent.

Maybe this is a part of being professional, but if you’re involved in Christian media, then you shouldn’t cut corners.  If you’re a self-published writer, then revise, revise, revise.  Give yourself time to do the best you can possibly do with your efforts.  Want to be a filmmaker?  Cut your teeth on shorts before moving to features.  Watch a LOT of movies – and not only Christian made movies.  Read scripts.  No matter what area of media you feel drawn to, take the time to become excellent.  Say what you will about the world, but the world appreciates and is drawn to excellence.

3.  Be Creative.

This is where we often drop the ball with Christian media.  In our rush to get our message out, we tell sloppy stories.  We create one-dimensional characters.  We allow our faith to handcuff us, which is not why we have our faith.  “It was for freedom you were set free…”  Remember?  That includes the freedom to be creative.  Try to look at the world in a different way, in a real and authentic way.  Especially when you consider those people who believe differently than you do.  We call God the Creator, not just because he created everything, but because He is also so incredibly creative.  Go, and do likewise, because people outside the church are attracted to true creativity.

4.  Be Intelligent.

We’ve all seen the near-constant parade of apparently unintelligent Christians in media.  People hosting programs who have trouble putting together intelligible sentences; faith-based scripts that seem not well thought-through or properly edited; embarrassingly discourteous or rude commenters on the internet; self-published novels that are so plotless and pointless that they make one wish that self-publishing were as hard and expensive as it used to be.

Our reputation for being unintelligent has been well earned by these things and much more.  Write intelligently, direct intelligently, comment intelligently, create intelligently.  God may use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, but that doesn’t mean we should aim to be fools.  Christians in media are the front lines for changing the intelligence perception with the media they create.

5.  Be Ingenious.

Christian media is known for trying to take something the world has done and recreate it in a faith-friendly way.  The world gives us 50 Shades of Grey, Christian media reacts with Old Fashioned.   There’s a good article about this on Vox, written by Brandon Ambrosino.  I’d also recommend the article he cites by Alissa Wilkinson.

The point is that Christians in media need to be ingenious.  We should lead rather than follow, set the standard rather than chasing after the latest fad or trend.  We should aim to take the world by surprise with our ingenious and unique creations.

6.  Be Honest.

Finally, one of the best weapons we have at our disposal as Christians in media is honesty.  As we interact with people who aren’t in the faith, they should see this about us – as we interact with the media, they should notice this about us.  As we write, direct, act, talk, sing, produce, film, record, edit, draw, or whatever it is we do, people should recognize it in us.

They should talk about it behind our backs.

And if they do?  That’s okay.  We should have nothing to hide, and no reason to hide.  We don’t have to pretend to have it all together, because we know that we don’t.  We don’t have to act like our families are perfect, because we know that they aren’t.  We don’t have to act like we have all the answers, because we know that we don’t.  And that’s okay.

What we do have is Jesus.

And if you’ll pardon my brief use of Christainese, we have his forgiveness, his mercy, and his grace.   And He gives us the ability to live openly, transparently, and honestly – in life and in the media we create.

And that is how we will impact the world.

And now the (bonus +2).

1.  Drop the Secret Language.

Christianese – the secret language of Christianity.  The moment you fall into using the secret language, you lose potential interest from people who don’t speak it.  If your Christian media is inundated with Christianese, you need to make some changes, or you might as well just create your media in Klingon for all the good it will do you.

To find out more about Christianese, go to the Dictionary of Christianese, or read a good article about it here.  And then cut it out.

2.  Give the End Times a Rest.

What do we know?  Jesus will return.  How?  When?  We have no real idea – just theories and interpretations.   That means that our Rapture books and movies are just the Christian versions of The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Road, or any of the other dystopsian end-of-the-world stories you want to pick.   And they’re not nearly as compelling, well told, or well made.

Can we just give it a rest for a while?

Please?

(Actually, having said that, a Christian dystopsian story that absolutely nothing to do with the Rapture or the anti-Christ could be a really interesting read.)